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Reverse Trick-or-Treating

I know a lot of adults—not me, of course—who buy their favorite Halloween chocolates secretly hoping that trick-or-treater turnout will be light and they can polish off the rest themselves. This is especially true of people who don't have their own children to pilfer from.If a relatively new practi...

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Halloween candy can have an even scarier side. Image courtesy of Flickr user .imelda


I know a lot of adults—not me, of course—who buy their favorite Halloween chocolates secretly hoping that trick-or-treater turnout will be light and they can polish off the rest themselves. This is especially true of people who don't have their own children to pilfer from.

If a relatively new practice called reverse trick-or-treating catches on, such scheming could be unnecessary. Imagine—you open the door on Halloween, and some pint-size Dracula (or is it Edward these days?) hands you a piece of chocolate. Amazing, right?

Of course, there's a catch. Or, not really a catch, but a serious side that will kill that sugar buzz: some of the cocoa used by major American chocolate companies could be a product of forced child labor.

Reverse trick-or-treating was launched four years ago by the organization Global Exchange with the goal of pressuring the major chocolate producers in the United States—such as Hershey and Nestlé—to adhere to fair trade practices. Children who take part in the campaign hand out Fair Trade-certified chocolates, along with an information sheet about the problem.

About a decade ago, a series of media, government and nongovernmental organization reports exposed the horrible conditions of children (and adults) forced to work in the cocoa fields of the Ivory Coast, the world's largest supplier of cocoa beans. In 2001 U.S. chocolate companies agreed to meet the Harkin Engel Protocol by 2005, but they've made little progress.

On September 30, Tulane University's Payson Center for International Development, which is contracted by the U.S. Department of Labor to monitor compliance with the protocol, released its fourth annual report on West African child labor. It found that "serious labor rights exploitation including the worst forms of child labor, forced labor and trafficking continue in the cocoa industry."

The governments of Ghana, another big cocoa supplier, and the Ivory Coast have made some efforts to address forced or indentured child labor and trafficking—with more success in Ghana than Cote d'Ivoire, according to the report.

Several of the major world chocolate companies, including Cadbury, Mars and Nestlé, recently announced that some of their products will carry fair-trade certification. But most of these will be sold in the United Kingdom and Ireland, not the United States. Only Kraft announced plans to deliver certified chocolate to the United States by 2012, through its Cote d'Or and Marabou lines. Smaller companies do sell Fair Trade chocolates in this country.

The Hershey Company, as the largest U.S. chocolate company, has been singled out by fair-trade activists, who criticize its lack of transparency about where it sources its cocoa and its failure to shift to independent certification of its cocoa.

Some certification is stronger than others. A chart in the report linked above shows which companies have committed to which certification. While the Fair Trade Certified label, which Cadbury (overseas only), Nestlé (U.K. only) and Ben & Jerry's are using, requires 100 percent of the primary ingredient to be certified, only 30 percent of the primary ingredient must be certified to receive the Rainforest Alliance label (which Kraft and Mars use).

The deadline to order the reverse trick-or-treating kits has already passed for this year, but interested people can still download flyers, buy Fair Trade chocolates to hand out to trick-or-treaters, or learn more by reading the Payson report.
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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